Imatges de pàgina
[merged small][ocr errors]

as receiving numerous embassies from the states lying beyond his western border. These are stated to have numbered seventy-six, and some writers have striven to prove that the arrival of so many envoys at the same moment may be taken as showing that there must have been some great disturbance in Western Asia. Chinese history is invoked to confirm the truth of the reported invasion of India by Sesostris about that time. It is to be feared that the Court language of the Chinese has misled several historians on this point, as the seventy-six embassies probably came not from “kingdoms” or “states,” but from petty districts and clans in the countries which are now known to us as Kokonor, Tibet, and Burmah.

In the reign of Pankeng (B.C. 1401-1374) the vagaries of the Hoangho led to two changes in the place of the capital or court residence, and on one occasion a site was selected near the modern Pekin. Pankeng was almost the last of the virtuous kings of the Chang dynasty. Some of his precepts, preserved in the “Choukin,” are admirable, and might be perused with profit at the present day. After Pankeng came a long line of princes weak in their mind and dissolute in their habits, and the courtiers imitated only too perfectly the examples of their masters. The story is told that Vouting, the one exception to this rule, was compelled to have recourse to an ordinary labourer as the only honest man he could discover for the dignified office of his chief minister. The name of this minister was Fouyue, and he seems to have made it his object to emulate the praiseworthy conduct of the earlier rulers and ministers of China. With the death of these two men the Chang dynasty produced no other ruler, and the nation no other minister capable of maintaining the ruling House on the throne. In the twelfth century (B.C.) the crimes of the Emperors reached their culminating point in the person of Chousin, and the punishment of Providence was at last meted out by one of the great nobles, Wou Wang, prince of Chow. Wou Wang (Warrior King) crossed the Hoangho at the head of a large army, and routed the forces of Chousin on the plain of Mouye in Honan. The Emperor retired to his palace, where

he committed suicide, and the Chang dynasty expired with him.

The accession of Wou Wang as the first ruler of the third dynasty was followed by those reforms in the administration which the crimes and apathy of the Changs had rendered absolutely necessary. The acts of the new Emperor were marked by vigour and moderation, and the confidence of the nation was soon enlisted in his favour. The general satisfaction was enhanced in its effect by the obstinacy of two ministers of the Emperor Chousin, who, sooner than eat the bread of the usurper, starved themselves to death. Wou Wang publicly expressed his admiration of their fidelity and his regret at their death. Similar acts of magnanimity are frequently recorded of Chinese rulers, and were always rewarded by an increase of reputation in their people's opinion. Wou Wang's instincts were those of a soldier, and the simple habits which he introduced into the life of the court led to fresh vigour in the national existence. His immediate successors followed his prudent example, and thus the Chow dynasty became firmly established on the throne. He received various embassies, notably one from Kitse, king of Corea, who came in person to congratulate the new Emperor, thus commencing the connection between China and Corea which has subsisted to our time. His son Ching Wang was, during the first few years of his reign, obliged to carry on military operations against several of his relations; but these speedily terminating in his favour, left him strong both within and without his frontier. Mention is made of an embassy arriving from a country which can only be identified with Siam, and the reason given for its despatch was that it had been visited by several years of unusual prosperity, which the seers declared to be due to the throne of China being occupied by a wise prince.

One of the ablest of the Chow rulers was Mou Wang, or “the magnificent king,” son of a prince named Chao Wang, who had been drowned in the river Han, through the treachery of some of his subjects. Mou Wang ascended the throne about the year B.C. 1000, and continued to rule until B.C. 952. Waging several wars beyond the limits of


China proper, he inflicted severe defeats upon the wild tribes whose country was held in later days by the Mongols. Nor were his journeys beyond the frontier confined to warlike expeditions. On one occasion he made a peaceful tour to the west of his possessions into Tibet, reaching a point in the vicinity of the Kuenlun mountains-probably Khoten. This simple fact has given rise to exaggerated rumours as to his having travelled as far west as Persia or Syria. In those remote ages the western world of China was of much too limited extent to include those distant countries. Still there remains the fact that this Emperor undertook a memorable journey in unknown regions beyond his frontier. He was also widely famed as a builder of palaces and other public works. In one year he erected a summer palace, and in another he laid out a fortress. China had never been famed for its horses, and before the importation of the hardy steeds of Mongolia and Manchuria they were scarcely to be found out of the royal stables. One of the early Emperors speaks of horses and dogs as “animals foreign to China,” and the chronicles tell us of the eight proud coursers which Mou Wang sent to "an isle in the Eastern Sea" to be nourished. Fed on "dragon grass,” we are informed that they became capable of performing a journey of one thousand li in the course of a single day. The remaining events of this reign are comprised under the head of “Wars with the Barbarians.”

Mou Wang's successors continued to reign, much after the same fashion, without any event calling for notice, until the time of Li Wang, B.C. 873, who is described as “a prince not wanting in ability, but whose insufferable pride, suspicious nature, and cruelty, absolutely effaced the good qualities which he would otherwise have possessed." This prince soon forfeited the affections of his subjects, and his senseless tyranny called down upon him the vengeance of popular indignation. There was no dynastic crisis such as had taken place in the time of the Changs, for it was plain to the common intelligence that the crimes committed were those of an individual, and not of a family. The nation rose up and exposed the criminality of Li Wang, and the poets gave forcible expression to the nation's mind. There was neither

occasion nor inducement for a heaven-sent champion to appear in the arena. The constitutional methods ready to the hand sufficed to curb the wrong-doing sovereign, and they were employed with efficacy and address. Li Wang was driven from the throne, and compelled to flee the country. He survived his fall fourteen years; but time secured no oblivion for his faults in the eyes of the people. In that sense the nation proved as inexorable as the laws of the Empire. Li Wang died in exile, and during his absence China was governed by a regency composed of two ministers. When Li Wang died, the regents proclaimed his son, Siuen Wang, Emperor, thus giving a fresh lease of life to the Chow dynasty. Brilliant victories over the barbarians, who had grown more daring in their encroachments, marked the beginning of his reign; but something of the effect of this successful defence of the Empire was removed by a great blight which visited the country. The blame for this national calamity was laid at the door of the sovereign, because he had neglected to perform in person a ceremony the origin of which was traced back to the ancient days of Chinese annals; and the penalty of such neglect was pronounced by the highest authority to be “the wrath of the Master of all things (Changti), and desolation throughout the Empire.” What the famine began, the valour of the barbarians completed. Siuen Wang's army was routed on the field of battle, and although ultimately retrieving his lost fortune, he never completely recovered the popularity which had accompanied his earlier years, when he was in every respect “a much-beloved king.” His son Yeou Wang was heir not only to his throne, but also to his misfortunes. Floods, earthquakes, and other calamities struck terror to the heart of the people; the ruler alone proved callous to them. While his subjects were daily raising loud complaints to the throne, he passed his time in idle pleasure in his palace. The general distress made the reduction of taxation a matter of ordinary prudence; he doubled the imposts to gratify the wishes of his mistress. The Chinese have never been silent under tyranny. They have sometimes, but rarely, produced a Brutus, or a Harmodius; but they have never failed to find satirists, whose bitter A WARDEN OF THE MARCHES.


words have exposed the shortcomings of the Emperor, even though endowed in the common parlance with many of the attributes of God. Yeou Wang became the butt of the learned; his crimes were denounced in the Tribunal of History, and his amours formed the theme of daily conversation. “The Royal House was approaching its fall,” wrote the great historian of the day. Meanwhile the heir apparent had fled the palace, and sought with his mother refuge among the Tartar tribes of the West. These wild people looked upon the cities of China as their lawful prey, and though often beaten back with loss, it cost them little or nothing to resume an enterprise that might result in the attainment of a great prize. Never did the prospect appear more seductive to them than during the years when Yeou Wang's conduct had alienated his people, and the dynasty of Chow seemed tottering on the verge of ruin. The Tartars poured over the frontier, ravaging the country as they advanced; and Yeou Wang marched with several armies to oppose them. The victory should have gone to him, but the column under his command was attacked and overwhelmed by numbers, Yeou Wang himself perishing on the field.

His son Ping Wang was then placed upon the throne by the great vassal princes, but the danger from the Tartars, elated by their success over his father, continued to be so great that the Chinese were kept in a state of constant alarm. Ping Wang had to resort to the dangerous expedient of making one of the great nobles the custodian of his frontier. He abandoned his Western capital to this noble, Siangkong, Prince of Tsin, and retired to the Eastern capital, named Loyang, in Honan. The task entrusted to the prince named was difficult, but it enabled him to consolidate a power within the state independent of that of the Emperor. “The Tartars," said Ping Wang in his decree to the prince, “are constantly making their inroads into my provinces of Ki and Fong. You alone can put a stop to their onslaughts and marauding. Take, then, all this country, I yield it to you willingly, on the simple condition that you turn it into a barrier against them." In this decree, as engraved on a vase in Shensi, Ping Wang styled himself “the King of Heaven." Little did he think

« AnteriorContinua »